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The Kings Are Effectively Bailing On The Harry Giles Project

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End of an era.

Kimani Okearah

When the Sacramento Kings drafted Duke forward Harry Giles with the 20th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, the basketball world knew getting him healthy and productive on the court was going to be a process. To the Kings’ credit — at least for the first two years of Giles’ NBA career, they handled that process well.

Giles spent his first NBA season getting healthy and learning. He didn’t appear in a single game during what-would-have-been-but-technically-wasn’t his rookie year. He was healthy, or at least that’s what we were told, and the Kings were just being extremely cautious with a player they had every right to be cautious with.

When Giles finally made his NBA debut during the 2018-19 season, he struggled in all the ways a player in his situation should probably struggle. He fouled so frequently that the Kings couldn’t keep him on the court for any significant stretch. Even at his worst, he would show you some flashes of brilliance, but the foul trouble and indecision on offense led to several understandable DNP-CD’s. The Kings were pushing for the 8th seed and player development momentarily took a backseat to winning. It made sense.

Then Marvin Bagley got injured, and Harry Giles found his second chance. I don’t want to exaggerate how well Giles played when he returned to the rotation, but he was markedly better than his first run. Giles made tangible improvements every month, and his defensive intensity and toughness stood out on a young team with young players who didn’t have that kind of edge.

Harry Giles’ 2018-19 Monthly Splits.
Basketballreference.com

Giles’ demeanor on the court drew earned comparisons to Kevin Garnett. The intensity was there, and if you don’t think the Kings need that kind of player in their future, look no further than the lackadaisical 0-5 start the team is stuck in the middle of right now. They need someone with Harry Giles’ fight.

Unfortunately for Giles and the Kings, his 2018-19 campaign was cut short do to an ambiguous left thigh injury. That’s what makes discussing the Harry Giles project intelligently nearly impossible — the Kings have consistently and consciously muddied the waters regarding his health from the beginning. There is so much about this situation we don’t know. I guess you can consider that a disclaimer for this post. It’s entirely possible that there is something going on behind-the-scenes with Giles that we just aren’t privy to.

The Kings put more of their Giles ambiguity on display this season. He’s injured right now with some kind of knee soreness. Or something. He hasn’t played in a game yet — we know that.

NBC Sports’ James Ham went on the Hoop-Ball Sacramento Kings Podcast with Damien Barling earlier this year and revealed that Giles came into training camp out of shape, so that’s one small piece of the mysterious Giles puzzle. It’s something to consider, at least.

Giles was recently upgraded from ‘Out’ to ‘Questionable’ so whatever the current issue is, it sounds like he’s going to be medically cleared soon. Or not. Who really knows at this point, but the word on the streets is that he’s close to a return.

That leads us up to today. Or yesterday, technically.

The Kings did not pick up their 4th year option on Harry Giles’ rookie scale contract, effectively ending the dream that he could be a key contributor to the future of this franchise. If the Kings picked up Giles’ 4th year option, it would have been business as usual. They would have him under contract for next season, and he would be a restricted free agent by the time his rookie contract is complete, allowing the Kings to match any offer he would receive from a competing team and keep him in Sacramento long-term.

Instead, the Kings’ decision to decline the option means that Harry Giles will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Under CBA rules, the Kings will not be allowed to offer him a contract greater than what he would have received if the team exercised the 4th year option, so the max the Kings can offer Giles if they wanted to retain his services is a $3.9 million deal, but they lost the safety net of restricted free agency to negotiate with. Harry Giles doesn’t need to return to the Kings if Harry Giles doesn’t want to return to the Kings. They don’t control his destiny anymore.

This decision also tanks whatever small trade value Harry Giles may have had, because any team trading for him would have to negotiate a new contract under the same restrictions the Kings are under now. If a team is interested in Giles, trading for him makes little sense. They will wait until free agency and sign him to whatever contract they can negotiate, free of the restrictions they would have to deal with if they acquired him via trade this season.

The Kings are, of course, putting their standard spin on the news. James Ham reported that the “Kings love Giles and will continue to support his development. This decision also doesn’t preclude Giles from being an important part of their future.”

While technically true, the Kings can retain Harry Giles this summer, you don’t decline the 4th year option of a young player you believe in. This is the moment the Kings bailed on the Harry Giles project, and I’m left wondering why. What changed between the 2017 NBA draft and today? Why was Giles worth the gamble of the 20th overall pick a couple of years ago, but isn’t worth the gamble of an incredibly minor $4 million cap hit, particularly when he is reportedly close to making his season debut.

If it was a health issue, that would make the most sense, but the Kings keep telling us that all of these ambiguous injuries are minor and he’s close to a return.

The Athletic’s Sam Amick went on Sports 1140 KHTK (h/t to StR user Kangz1960) this morning and reported that the Kings declined Giles’ 4th year option because they wanted to make him earn it.

It can often be difficult to determine if the message that comes out of the Kings organization is spin vs. reality, but that logic makes no sense. If Giles “earns it” this season, he’s going to sign with a different team this summer that can offer him more financial security than the $3.9 million contract the Kings cannot exceed. If he plays well, he’s gone.

Giles is only 21. Injuries aside, he was decent on the court last season. He got better every month. His three best skills (defense, passing, and toughness) are things this current young core is missing. The fit still makes sense. The gamble still makes sense. I wish I knew why the Kings thought otherwise.

This is just one observers opinion, but I thought Giles showed enough last season to see this project to its completion, particularly when the cost of finding out if he can be the player the Kings thought he might be in 2017 when they drafted him is just $3.9 million and a roster spot.

The Kings cannot afford to let good players walk out the door for nothing. Asset management has been a consistent issue for this organization throughout the decade-plus playoff drought. We don’t know if Giles is going to be one of those good players yet, but I wouldn’t needlessly bet against it considering his potential, and that’s exactly what the Kings did here. Maybe they’ll get this one right.